In case anyone wondered why the Trump administration is intent on adding a citizenship question to next year’s census, Common Cause North Carolina has brought to light documents that make it clear the move is politically motivated.
The administration has claimed that asking about the citizenship status of everyone in the census is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act and prevent discrimination against minorities. Its lawyers told the U.S. Supreme Court that such protection of minorities would be the “principal benefit” of adding the citizenship question.
That, to put it bluntly, is a lie, and a cynical lie at that. We now have strong evidence that the citizenship question is designed to do the opposite: to suppress minority participation in the census and expand the gerrymandering that helps white Republican candidates unfairly hold on to their power in legislative districts.
If this sounds familiar to North Carolinians, it’s because the documents that Common Cause has revealed are the work of the late Thomas Hofeller, the Republican political strategist responsible for the controversial, heavily gerrymandered voting districts his party imposed on North Carolina after the 2010 census. His daughter came across the documents on a hard drive after he died and offered them to Common Cause, which is involved in a court case here.
The revelation with national implications is that, in 2015, Hofeller conducted a study that concluded that adding a citizenship question to the next census would result in “radical redrawing” of legislative districts that would help Republicans and non-Hispanic whites and hurt Democrats. Warning that Latino voters would see this as an attempt to suppress their voting strength, he also came up with the idea of claiming the purpose of the question was to help enforce voting rights.
Then he helped draft the request that the U.S. Justice Department sent to the Commerce Department asking for the change. The Trump administration had kept Hofeller’s role a secret.
What the administration is trying to do is wrong on many levels. The Census Bureau has estimated that adding a citizenship question to will lead to about 6.5 million people not responding to the census. Getting wary minorities to participate is a problem under the best of circumstances. The Bureau also says that the question is unnecessary, that the data is available in existing government records.
The Founders realized the importance of an accurate count of the people in the country, and of a general idea of their age, race and sex. They put a requirement for a complete count very 10 years in the Constitution. It’s not supposed to be a political tool.
Suppressing participation by minorities will hurt communities and states in many ways beyond the perversion of elections. The census is critical in determining how federal funds are allocated to the states for a broad range of programs.
Unfortunately, the revelation about Hofeller’s role may not have come in time to keep the question off the census. The Supreme Court has already heard arguments on the census case and is expected to rule soon.
If the Trump administration is allowed to include the question, it will be a win for the worst kind of partisan politics and a loss for democracy and the country.